Leadership in Public Arenas

In Yapese society, it falls upon the men to provide public leadership. Men in a position to provide such leadership tend to be at least in their mid-forties and have assumed the position as tafean, "head," of their estate, which makes them eligible to participate in village councils. All tabinaew, "estates," in a village are named and ranked. The leader of the highest-ranked estate within a village is entitled to serve as the village chief, an example of why the Yapese say, "The land is the chief, not the man." Given the drastic depopulation that Yap underwent, it now happens that a woman might actually be in control of a highly ranked estate and thus hold the position of tafean. However, a woman who is tafean of an estate can never hold the position of mataam, "male leader of the estate." A woman in this position may not speak publicly for the estate. Nevertheless, she can, and surely does, exercise persuasive economic and political influence in less public forums. Furthermore, a woman who is the tafean of an estate and who also has reached the final age-grade stage could command some attention to her wishes which at times would be acknowledged publicly. In any particular Yapese village there are a number of chiefs (e.g., "section chief," "chief of the dance," "chief of young men," and "chief of war"). In each instance, a man is eligible to hold this position if he controls the estate that entitles him to do so. Each of these titles comes with lunguun, "rights and obligations," that the male estate leader has to perform publicly.

Associated with all Yapese estates are the mafaen, "those who have a duty to protect the estate." Traditionally, there were three distinct and separate individuals entitled to this status: father's sister, father's father's sister, and father's father's father's sister. In addition, the matrilineal descendants of these three females were recognized as being "people of the mafaen." The most important mafaen, "guardian of the estate," was a man's father's sister. It was the duty of the estate guardian (always a woman) to ensure that her brother's sons and families honored and respected the duties and obligations of the land over which they were the head. The mafaen had the right to criticize publicly the behavior of her brother's son if they failed to honor the family estate and, furthermore, she could confiscate the estate if the offense were serious enough to warrant such action.

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